#182: Sweep

June 26th, 2013

An old man sweeps a store.

The store is closed; no getting in for paletas, helado and the other frozen treats whose taped-up pictures line the edge of the storefront window. The door is locked. The neon above it with “Open” in cursive glass isn’t glowing.

And an old man sweeps inside. He sweeps around carts.

The carts are boxes, blocky wonders with taped-up pictures of the treats from the window. An ice pop loaded with rice and cinnamon, the taste of sweet horchata. An ice cream scoop cemented in a sugar cone by a chocolate dip, with or without almonds. Pops in the shape of copyright-infringing cartoon characters, maybe a black cat who harasses a yellow bird. Maybe Spider-Man. Maybe they are properly licensed after all.

In the morning, more old men will come and take the carts to the streets. They’re always old men, always Hispanic. They’ll push the carts out onto the sidewalks around and scatter, as much as men their age can scatter.

Little bells jingling from the handles will announce their arrival. Some might say, “Helado. Helado. Ice cream.” as they walk past. They’ll look around sadly as they walk. They always do. It’s always quiet.

“Helado. Ice cream. Paletas.”

Sometimes the old men pushing the carts get a hit. A dollar or two for a novelty treat, one ordered either in Spanish or by a combination of English and pointing at the picture taped to the outside. If they get a hit, they’ll stop and slowly, always slowly, lift up the lid to reach in.

The hotter the day, the more the icy fog seems to swirl from within the cart. The old men reach in and pull out the requested treat, closing the top after so the others don’t melt.

The ice cream is always hard.

Sometimes the old men pushing the carts get drowned out by a truck playing Scott Joplin or “Turkey in the Straw.” People usually go for the truck when there’s a choice. The trucks have soft-serve and toppings. You can get a real sundae from a truck, served in a thin Styrofoam bowl with nuts and chocolate and sprinkles and bananas. That’s much more appealing than a slate-hard Choco Taco or a ice cream dyed vaguely into the shape of Sylvester.

Trucks playing Joplin happen sometimes. And sometimes its wet. Or colder than it should be. Sometimes just no one wants ice cream.

When that happens, or in the moments between good sales, the old men continue their shuffling pace down streets and sidewalks. Some softly call “helado” as they spread outward from a little storefront where, right now, an old man sweeps.

Comment on this story

Read about another job

What's this?

You are currently reading #182: Sweep by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

  • Get Stories by Email

  • Chicago Corruption Walking Tour

    Join the email list for tour dates and info.